War Story: New book reveals Sarnia’s remarkable military contribution

Tom Slater holds a copy of the The City of Sarnia War Remembrance Project at the cenotaph in Veterans’ Park. 2014 file photo

George Mathewson

When retired teacher Tom Slater discovered Sarnia had no comprehensive war record of its fallen soldiers he set about to correct that.

The result is The City of Sarnia War Remembrance Project, second edition, set for release on Nov. 1.

It’s the first full and permanent record of local soldiers who gave their lives from the Boer War to recent peacekeeping in Afghanistan.

The 418-page book will be a reference source for generations to come. But it’s also a portal into the personal tragedy of war revealed through anecdotes, letters and photos of Sarnia’s fallen soldiers.

“You can’t help but be moved when you read their stories,” said Slater, who sifted though countless documents to fill out the record.

“When you go to high school (the war dead) can seem so removed. But now a student here can say, ‘He went to SCITS, he played on the football team, and (shortly after) he was flying in a Lancaster Bomber.’

“It’s the stories that make the connection.”

The numbers are sobering.

Sarnia’s population stood around 10,900 when the First World War broke out in 1914. By the time the fighting ended four years later one out of every 10 residents had enlisted.

Incredibly, Sarnians made an even greater sacrifice for the Second World War. Some 3,000 men and women – a staggering 16% of the population at the time – served before hostilities ended in 1945.

“It’s an amazing contribution,” Slater said. “Sarnia was right there when it comes to serving our country. It’s pretty outstanding.”

The book covers 306 fallen soldiers. Sadly, almost 30% of them have no known grave.

The youngest to die was 15; the oldest 54.

“You see that some parents gave up two and three sons. Women who lost husbands, young kids that didn’t have a dad anymore. It affected the community for generations,” Slater said.

The book builds on a first edition released in 2012 and is almost three times as large.

Many volunteers helped out, and Slater said he is especially grateful to Randy Evans, who helped research Sarnia’s First World War fallen, Tom St. Amand and Lou Giancarlo, who provided editing and advice, and Mayor Mike Bradley, who provided on-going support and wrote the foreword.

The research found errors and omissions in the names inscribed on the cenotaph in Veteran’s Park. But that’s not surprising, Slater said, because such lists were often assembled by word of mouth rather than official documents.

Neither Slater nor any of those who worked on the book are receiving a nickel for their effort. To cover costs, Sarnia is buying 30 hardcopies for libraries and other institutions and a limited number will be for sale at The Book Keeper starting Nov. 1.

“Now we have their names and their stories, and the goal is for them to be remembered,” he added.

 

Candlelight vigil to be held

Sarnians can remember a fallen soldier or honour a past or current military member with a candlelight tribute on Monday, Nov. 10.

Participants will carry lit candles from city hall at 7 p.m. to the Royal Canadian Legion Cenotaph on Front Street, where Cadets will stand guard in vigil throughout the night, until dawn, ensuring the candles and memories are never alone.

The tribute continues to the end of the Remembrance Day services the following day.

The labeled candles are sponsored by a $5.00 donation, which will go to the Poppy Trust Fund to help veterans and their dependents. Candles can be obtained at The Royal Canadian Legion, Sarnia Br. #62, or call 519-336-2841.

The Legion will also place a sponsored candle on behalf of anyone who can’t attend.